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Australia 2009
Directed by
Sarah Watt
96 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

My Year Without Sex

Synopsis: Natalie (Sacha Horler) and Ross (Matt Day) are the heads of a fairly typical Aussie family, bringing up 8-year old Ruby (Portia Bradley) and 12-year old Louis (Jonathan Segat). One day Natalie collapses and ends up in hospital with major brain surgery as the result of an aneurism. Lucky to survive relatively unscathed, she is instructed by her doctor to avoid sneezing, heavy lifting and orgasms. The subsequent year presents huge challenges, but family life must go on.

Sarah Watt made her impressive feature debut in 2005 with Look Both Ways, a film dealing with death, fear of living, relationships and some of life’s big questions. Here she follows it up with another thoughtful film, dealing, on the surface at least, with much more of the mundane minutiae of life.)

Just as Look Both Ways made clever use of visuals, so this film divides the plot into monthly chapters, with each segment having a visual title relating to something sexual. So August is foreplay, November is faking it, February missionary position and so on. The titles are imaginatively crafted with drawings, montages and film clips. But this is just a tiny (albeit impressive) part of a beautifully-scripted and warmly-acted film, that present life’s struggles with affection and humour.

Many of the trials are immediately recognisable: the kids have recurrent nit infections that necessitate the whole family being treated; the dog gets attacked by a Rottweiler and the family incurs unaffordable vet’s bills; Ross faces a restructure at work on the one hand and is lured into coaching Louis’s under 12 team and runs a makeover party for Ruby’s 8th birthday on the other; Ruby loses her tooth and anxiously awaits the tooth fairy; the clothes dryer blows up; and Christmas shopping stretches the budget to the limit. Meanwhile the couple’s sex life is non-existent. Though Natalie encourages Ross to just do it, but he is reluctant.

Played out against the daily turmoil are deeper issues brought about by Natalie’s brush with death. Watt is fascinated by the fact that life is a rocky road, waiting to trip up people with random acts of fate, often illnesses. Natalie fears that she may not live to see her kids grow up yet she battles on. Lured into the church choir by her buddy, Winona (Katie Wall), Natalie befriends the curate, Margaret (Maude Davey). But even though she cannot believe in God she is terrified of going to Hell. Add to this the question hanging over everything of whether Ross and Natalie’s marriage can survive this trying year and this is truly an annus horribilus.

All the performances are excellent but Horler is a stand-out. Unafraid of looking dowdy (and her operation make-over is brilliantly done), she imbues Natalie with all the emotion and mixed feelings you’d expect from anyone in her position. The script also resonates with authenticity. Watt strikes a delicate balance between comedy and tragedy whilst there are several tender scenes that hit home and capture the love in a family and the love beyond sex between a couple.

In every way this gentle, delightful film perfectly balances the weighty against the mundane, delivering a true slice of life that never loses sight of the battles all humans face trying to glean meaning from and keep hope in their lives.




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